Earth and Space

Learning more about the moon

Classroom Activity for 5-11 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

Accounting for day and night is quite complex, and we suggest that the very best way for children to develop a helpful understand this is to act out a model of the process.

What to Prepare

  • a simple tabard by laminating two A4 pictures of the Earth, use a hole punch to make 2 holes at the top of each picture, so string can be threaded through and they can hang over a child's neck – one on the front and one on the back.
  • another tabard, similarly, for the Sun
  • another tabard, similarly, for the Moon
  • 2 small spherical beads on a threads suspended from a rod

What Happens During this Activity

It is important for the children to observe the different phases of the Moon and the fact that it too seems to move across the sky in the course of a night. Observations can be made of the Moon's appearance and how this changes over time and also when it can be seen in the sky. This really can only be done as a home project and it can be tricky for children who go to bed early however! It is very good to ask the children what they think.

Teacher: What does the Moon look like?

Give them a night time scene and ask them to draw the Moon in the sky. N.B. Many children's story books have the Moon drawn as a crescent and this is likely to be the most common response.

Teacher: When do we see the Moon in the sky?

Tell the children that scientists do observations and they are going to be Moon spotters – when they see the Moon, they draw its shape and note the time.

Teacher: We know it is not safe to look at the Sun in the sky but it is quite safe to look at the Moon. Why is it safe to look at the Moon?

The Moon is nowhere near as bright as the Sun and this is because it is not itself a source of light. It reflects the light from the Sun. A disco ball seems to shine but it is only reflecting the light falling on it – the ball is not a source of light.

Now the children can act out a slightly expanded model of the solar system with the Earth, Sun and Moon tabards:

Using the tabards again, the Sun stands at the centre and the Earth spins and at the same time travels around the Sun. Now add in the Moon which orbits the Earth whilst it orbits the Sun.

The Moon has the hardest job!

The Moon orbits the Earth once a moonth – a month.

An interesting fact: the Moon always keeps the same side facing the Earth – the other side is the dark side of the Moon. We never see the dark side from Earth and the only people who have seen it are the astronauts who have orbited the Moon. So the child being the Moon keeps his/her face looking at the Earth as they go around it.

The scale of our model of the Earth, Sun and Moon being acted out by the children is a misrepresentation of reality as the scales are wrong.

The best way of getting a feel for the scale is the following demonstration:

Have two small beads hanging by threads from a rod. One bead represents the Earth and the other the Moon. The beads need to be about 10 cm apart so that the scale is roughly correct. Tell the children that we have reduced the Moon and Earth by the same amount and then this is roughly how far apart they would be.

Hold the model up, and ask:

Teacher: Is the Sun larger or smaller than the Moon?

Children tend to know the Sun is bigger. Have a bag with a variety of sized balls in it and bring them out one by one to see which one would be about the right size for the Sun:

  1. golf ball
  2. tennis ball
  3. football
  4. large beach ball

A really large beach ball is about right.

Teacher: How far away does the beach ball need to be for this scale model?

It can be thrown to the middle of the class, back of the class etc. but this would not be far enough

  • it needs to be 40 m away! It is important to go outside and actually do this.
  • It is also interesting to ask the children what is between the Earth and the Sun. Admittedly, there are two other planets but these are also relatively tiny and are in constant orbit around the Sun. Children tend to have quite a crowded picture of space and think that there are other stars between us and the Sun. Mostly it is just empty space, no air – nothing at all.

    is a type of Satellite
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